by Phil Marsh

Sorry I’m late for work, my train was late again….or was it?

Published: 31st March 2015

We look at why railway statistics are often wrongly used as an excuse for being late for work

The Department for Transport (DfT) has just released train performance statistics for what is traditionally a poor operating month, February. Railway performance is measured in 13 four-weekly periods and the winter weather usually causes a drop of a few percentage points in punctuality.

But this year, the DfT says that 90.7% of trains arrived at their destination on time in February 2015 in Great Britain, (IE excluding Northern Ireland) which was a significant increase from the 2014 score of 87.2%.

But its not an easy statistic to work out as it includes what is known as the ‘Public Performance Measure’ (PPM) averages for passenger train operators franchised by devolved administrations in London, Merseyside, Wales and Scotland affecting Arriva Trains Wales, First ScotRail, London Overground and Merseyrail plus non franchised train operators like Grand Central, Heathrow Express and Hull Trains. The DfT’s figures exclude the non-franchised services.

What is the PPM and why is it important?

The figures come from the Office of Rail Regulation and not a spin doctor - but what exactly is the PPM and why is it important? The PPM combines figures for punctuality and reliability into a single performance record. The former measures timekeeping and the latter the percentage of trains actually operated against the agreed train plan.

The figures cover all scheduled franchised passenger services and each individual train is measured for punctuality at its destination against the planned timetabled arrival time. When the daily plan goes wrong, some trains can miss out stops to enable them to reach the destination on time which means that some passengers will regard that train as cancelled as it was no use to them. When this happens, or trains are terminated short of their destination, the PPM is calculated to include these performance failures.

So what is on time and what is late according to PPM?

PPM counts trains as being on time if they arrive within five or ten minutes of their scheduled advertised time. And it is this percentage which helps collate the PPM when measured against the daily plan. The five minute threshold is for trains within five minutes of the scheduled final destination arrival time used for London and South East and regional operators but is 10 minutes for long-distance operators. This is because the further a train travels, logically the more chance there are of delays.

Who causes delays? The majority of delays are attributed to Network Rail (NR) because they operate the infrastructure including signals, overhead wires and points for example. But when for example a lorry hits a rail bridge, this is also a NR attributed delay. A suicide from a platform becomes the station operator’s delay but if a suicide happens away from a platform, then NR takes the delay.

And last year at Dawlish when the severe storms and tides washed away the sea wall, again, NR collected the delays. And when a tree from a garden blows across the railway line, that also gets blamed on NR. But if a Virgin train delays a Cross Country train, then Virgin have to pay NR who act as the rail industry ‘banker’ and they will pay Cross Country.

This is why there is thought to be around 300 people allocating delays costing the rail industry millions as one serious failure can cost a million pounds. Delay attribution can make a real contribution to the profit and loss account of franchisees but they will not admit it.

The PPM is collated for a rolling period of 12 months which produces the Moving Annual Average (MAA) which shows longer term performance trends. The MAA in turn triggers season ticket discounts of up to 10% on poor performing routes, so the whole process is worth a fortune. Services that are cancelled or fail to operate their entire route, calling at every station, count as a PPM failure.

PPM represents the percentage of trains which are ‘on time’ compared to the total number of trains planned. A train is defined as on time if it arrives at its final destination within five minutes of the scheduled destination arrival time for London and South East and regional operators; or within ten minutes for long distance operators.

To give an idea of the complexity, Regional operators are East Midlands Trains on non-London routes. First Great Western (routes in west of England and south Wales), London Midland (non-London routes) and Northern Rail.

Long distance operators are CrossCountry, East Coast, East Midlands Trains London services, First Great Western, routes from London to south west England and south Wales, First TransPennine Express, Greater Anglia (London to Norwich route) and Virgin Trains.

London and South East operators are c2c, Chiltern Railways, First Capital Connect, First Great Western’s London commuter routes, Greater Anglia (excluding London to Norwich route), London Midland (all London routes and Bedford to Bletchley), Southeastern, Southern and South West Trains.

So there you have it!’s ABC guide to PPM and MAA and here are the latest results!


In February, the only National Express franchise topped the punctuality table with 97.1% of their ‘c2c’ services arriving at their destination on time. Southern propped the table up with just 79.2% of their trains arriving on time.

Why the disparity? c2c run pretty much on their own network as with Island Line so are not subjected to other companies’ train failures. They also only run on relatively short distances under 50 miles. Southern also run many short distance routes but their route is subject to the ongoing engineering works in the London Bridge and other Thameslink project areas. They also share tracks with many other train operators on what is a very heavily used network.

Historically for the last six or seven years, the national average PPM has exceeded 90%. The ORR has funded Network Rail to turn in a much better performance but could you guarantee arriving within 10 minutes on any regular drive by road 90% of the time? Probably not.

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